Candidates seeking more than votes with pro-Israel pandering

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epa05111601 United States Senator and Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz during a campaign stop at the Freedom Village Store in Freedom, New Hampshire, USA, 19 January 2016. Cruz is on a four day bus tour of the state of New Hampshire in preparation for the primary to be held on 09 February 2016. EPA/CJ GUNTHER (Newscom TagID: epalive979724.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, who was campaigning in New Hampshire on Tuesday, is one of several candidates backing a move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Photo EPA/CJ Gunther
Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) put forward legislation last week to force the current administration to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — a bill that has little chance of getting through Congress. But it’s yet another example of a presidential candidate, in this case Cruz, loudly proclaiming his pro-Israel credentials in an effort to score political points.

During an appearance at a Florida town hall meeting last week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pledged to make Israel his first trip abroad should he win the presidency. It’s the same promise Mitt Romney made in December 2011. And though former Florida governor and GOP candidate Jeb Bush declined to make the same pledge, he did say, “On Day 1, I would announce that the U.S. Embassy would move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” according to a report by Jewish Insider, an online publication.


Even Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, the only candidate at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s candidates forum last month who would not affirm Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital, has made an about-face.

In a recent interview with David Brody, a journalist for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump said, “They want it in Jerusalem. Well, I am for that 100 percent. We are for that 100 percent.”

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Regardless of which party occupies the White House, it is unlikely that the embassy will be moved. In 1995, Congress passed a law mandating that the embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; however, presidents were allowed a waiver. Every president since then has exercised that waiver.
So why bother with sweeping declarations about Israel?

It’s an easy way to pick up votes in the little remaining time before the Iowa caucus, is how Robert J. Guttman, director of the Center for Politics and Foreign Relations at George Mason University, put it.
Though the Jewish population in Iowa is tiny, the fiercely pro-Israel evangelical vote will be important for Republican candidates trying to edge out competitors.


“There’s this unusual liking by evangelicals for the Israeli cause, the Jewish cause,” said Guttman. The flurry of pro-Israel proclamations over the past few weeks are attempts by candidates to “one-up each other” in an effort to secure coveted votes.

“They all travel to Israel to show that they know something about the area. It’s, excuse the basketball term, a slam dunk” to gain votes, he explained.

The pro-Israel message, though aimed primarily at voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, is also meant to woo Jewish donors. Said Guttman: “It’s courting votes and courting money.”

Jews across the United States “are a small, but significant voting bloc,” he added. It’s possible that some Republicans are hoping they can “siphon off some Jewish” voters who dislike Hillary Clinton and don’t see themselves voting for the self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Democrats have been less vocal of late about their pro-Israel credentials.

Clinton last showed her support of the Jewish state in a speech before the Saban Forum in Washington in December.

It’s harder, in Guttman’s estimation, for Democrats to be as vocally pro-Israel and in favor of moving the embassy as their Republican counterparts. But it’s also not as necessary as the majority of American Jews vote Democrat, something Guttman said the party takes for granted.

American Jews voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, despite a small flap following an appearance before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy forum when he was a senator and presidential candidate.

Obama vowed in a speech before AIPAC in 2008 that any negotiated agreement between Israel and Palestinian Authority “must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.”

According to conservative website cnsnews.com, Obama’s speech received a standing ovation from AIPAC’s audience of 7,000-plus. But hours later, he walked back his comments in an interview with CNN. A campaign spokesperson later clarified that Obama was opposed to a return to the “barbed wire and checkpoints as it was in 1948-67.”

In the end, pro-Israel pandering, whether from the right or left, does not guarantee that the embassy will move or that the average voter cares to press candidates on the issue once they’re elected to office.

“The average voter — it doesn’t affect them,” said Guttman. “Most people don’t know about the waiver, they don’t know much about Middle East politics, so it doesn’t hurt the candidate [if they don’t follow through].”

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